by Jeffrey Howard

As is annual tradition, the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association (WHTA) held its first general membership meeting of the year on the week of their show, the National Walking Horse Trainers’ Show. President Link Webb addressed several issues and at the top of the priority list was the USDA’s proposed penalty protocol for its sniffer technology and the ad campaign being introduced by the Humane Society of the United States.

Much of the meeting addressed the sniffer technology presently being considered for use in the 2008 show season. The concern was caused by the presentation of the proposed penalty protocols at the HIO meeting on March 11. With a foreign substance violation detected by the sniffer, the trainer would receive a letter of warning on the first violation, a two-week suspension on the second violation and all violations after the second would initiate a federal case. Webb did advise the trainers, “the proposed penalties will not be in effect this week at the National Trainers’ Show, although they could swab horses at the show.”

In a phone interview with Walking Horse Report, Dr. Rachel Cezar confirmed that “not everything is in place at this time with regards to the sniffer technology. We are awaiting suggestions from the HIOs before the department makes a decision on the implementation.” The suggestion period will end at the close of business on Monday, March 24. Dr. Cezar did confirm the above penalty structure was proposed but stressed “nothing has been set in stone at this time.”

Bill Hawks, from AgWorks Solutions is continuing to negotiate with the USDA on behalf of the WHTA and NHSC regarding the implementation of the sniffer and the penalty structures. Webb confirmed that Hawks would report back to WHTA next Monday (March 24). He also confirmed that $1 of every NHSC entry would be donated to the WHTA to help fund AgWorks Solutions contract with the WHTA.

With regard to the HSUS ad campaign, the WHTA made its members aware of the ad that had appeared in a Murfreesboro publication in both English and Spanish and warned them the ad would be appearing in other area newspapers (see separate story).

Webb gave a report on the National Horse Show Commission and on the meeting in Washington D.C. attended by David Pruett, president of TWHBEA, Frank Neal, president of WHOA and chairman of the NHSC and Webb, president of WHTA. This group represented a unified effort from the breeders, owners and trainers for the first time in recent memory. Webb reported that Dr. Chester Gipson of the USDA recognized the unity and praised them for their efforts.

Webb also reported that thermography would be used in the inspections this year by the USDA but no penalties would be imposed in 2008. Webb continued his analysis of the current situation with regards to inspections and urged the group “we need to continue to hold ourselves to the same standards we did in the fall of 2007 and we will be fine.”

Webb also touched on the DQP/VMO training held earlier this year and was very positive with the results. “Fourteen of the 16 horses presented passed inspection, which we are happy with. Overall we think the training went well.”At the end of the meeting the WHTA discussed letters trainers had received regarding the tickets given last year before the signing of the Operating Plan. Official warning letters have been sent out by the USDA regarding these violations. The letters state that if the individual fails to comply with APHIS laws and regulations in the future, this citation will be used by APHIS to justify a more severe penalty. The letters also stated that since the individual had fulfilled a penalty imposed by the HIO, APHIS would not seek additional penalties in this instance.